Saturday, June 25, 2022



Based on the small sample of this household, this movie is going to be divisive. The number of musical biopics in recent years may be indicative of an aging audience as it seems time for us to look at the musical heroes of our youth. Queen and Elton John are prime examples, but The Beatles and Bruce Springsteen have also had films based on their music in the last few years. Aretha and N.W.A. also got the biopic treatment. Elvis is a different animal however, he has been gone for almost half a century, and his original fans are probably not around to make up an audience for this film. The reasons for making a film like this still exist however. Elvis is the pivotal figure in the creation of modern culture in the second half of the 20th Century and his influence still reaches us well into the 21st.  

Director Baz Luhrmann has a reputation as a film innovator. He has made six feature length films and all of them have some distinctive visual qualities and a heavy use of music. "Elvis" should be the ultimate film in his catalogue if musicals are what you are looking for. The question before us is simple, does the film live up to expectations? From my point of view the answer is mostly yes. I will have a few reservations that you will get later, but let's begin with the stuff that would justify some enthusiasm.

Elvis as a force of nature and cultural tipping point is where Luhrmann succeeds early on. Elvis did not appropriate black culture and music, he championed it. This film digs a little into those roots with a couple of effective scenes. The child version of Elvis is drawn to the gospel music of his black neighbors and that music remained with him the rest of his life. The spiritualism that possesses him is transformed into sensuality later on, in a way that Elvis himself did not at first understand. In a strong visual flashback and extended concert sequence, Luhrmann connects these two seemingly conflicting influences and shows how important they were to transforming music into a emotionally shared experience for audiences. In a longer scene, he rejects efforts to channel his singing into a safer cultural zone, and embraces his emotional roots, which happen to challenge not only a sense of sexual propriety but also racial suppression. He may have grown up in a socially segregated world, but his musical impulses ignore those divisions and his fans largely do as well. This film is not about racial justice but it is about someone who influenced attitudes about those sorts of things and he existed in that context. 

The seeming Svengali of the phenomena that was Elvis, is Colonel Tom Parker, a mysterious showman/charlatan who took over Presley's career and guided it to incredible heights, exploited it for fantastic sums of money, and abused it for his personal benefit. The movie is structured around a seeming end of life confessional/defense by Parker of his relationship with The King. I appreciated some of the details in the story around this, and the mythmaking is also enjoyable, but I have reservations about Tom Hanks performance. The accent and at times over the top sinister smiles, are a bit dubious. The one thing that is pretty clear from a story perspective is that the relationship was complicated by admiration and loathing on both sides of the equation. The most satisfying sequence for an Elvis fan is the backdrop on the 68 Comeback Special, which Elvis used to restart his relevance in the world, in direct conflict with the final sell out that Parker was trying to manufacture. The recreation of the special is one of the many spots where Luhrmann gets close to turning this into the musical it really should be. 

It is the musical/concert scenes where the director and his acting discovery Austin Butler, manage to get the electricity that Elvis could generate on screen. When Butler is performing on stage, he really does bring Elvis to life and the sequences are well shot. It would perhaps be more entertaining if more of the songs were complete rather than composites. The sad coda of "Unchained Melody" is a good example of how a more complete musical edit could make the moments more meaningful. Luhrmann however is a visualist who needs to take advantage of the technology and control that modern film making can allow. I did think that he was more subdued on this than I expected. 

The places where the film falls down a bit are the personal moments and plot threads that should be a little more front and center. Elvis's romance with Pricilla gets a little bit of time, but his marriage gets next to nothing. The presence of Lisa Marie is tertiary and exist only for a moment on screen. His well known generosity is never touched on. The Memphis Mafia is listed at one point, but their fealty to and love of Elvis does not come across or show the personalities of the guys. Also missing is Elvis's playful sense of humor. 

Overall the film was very entertaining from my point of view but my daughter found it lifeless and a big disappointment. We will be talking about this more on the podcast, so if you want, come by and listen to our differences of opinion there.  

Thursday, June 23, 2022

John Carpenter's The Thing Fathom Events


Not an extensive post, just something to help me remember that we did this. It was Father's Day and we had it planned for several weeks. We put on our Fright Rags Tee Shirts and headed off to the afternoon screening. There was a good sized audience but the theater was not full. We got a couple comments on the shirts and everyone was in a good mood. 

The projector broke down, just as Copper is about to apply the defibrillator, and the audience moan was loud. That was the start of a key sequence and it was frustrating. Amanda became the hero and went out and notified the staff. They got it going again but it had run past the best moments. Whoever was in charge of the equipment did run it back for us but I think we missed about 70 seconds.

Something else was wrong as well. We got this notice on Facebook the next day:

Dear Fathom Fans,
Your patronage and trust are of utmost importance to us. We know you come to theaters expecting the very best experience possible and we pride ourselves on being the provider of that experience.
We are aware that the recent showing of The Thing wasn’t shown in its original aspect ratio and the disappointment it caused.  Wednesday’s scheduled event will be shown in the proper aspect ratio, so you can see the film in theaters, as it was meant to be seen.
Thank you for your patience and trust in us to bring you the very best in event cinema experiences.

We tried booking for last night to go again, but the screening was sold out. So that's good, but I would like to have seen it without the interruption and in the right aspect ratio. Still I had a good Father's Day. 

Monday, June 20, 2022



I don't know what audience this film is ultimately directed at. The plot is a little convoluted and complex for kids to relate to, and the adults in the audience will not find it as engaging as it should be as a straight drama. There is humor but it is not of the nature that we are used to in animated fare, and the movie just seems to sit there wanting to be loved but only managing to be respected. Somewhere in the story conferences, the Pixar team missed the heart that they usually find in a film, and instead they settled for the spectacle.

Chris Evans is fine as the voice of Buzz in this Movie about the movie that inspired the kid in another movie to idolize. I do think Tim Allen would have been able to bring the funny a little more often, but the problem is the script rather than just being the actor. The plot here is almost a reimaging of Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" which was a complex, time based space travel film which also has a hard time explaining the time sequence elements that are at it's heart, but at least that was not simply rushed over. At the end of this film, an antagonist character shows up and it will be very confusing to the kids and he is not well explained to the adults.

The movie looks good, it is a nicely realized attempt to imagine a film that could stir Andy's imagination and make Buzz the competitor for his affection against Woody. Some of the images cross-over, like the space suit and the laser pointer weapon. The spaceship is a bigger stretch of imagination, but a kid can do that with the right toy. On the other hand, the Turnup ship, the new home base, and the defense shield all feel a little derivative. The robots of Zurg needed to be a bigger part of the story, there is just one element of that which makes much of an impact, the rest of the time they are barely in the background.

The heart that Pixar usually finds in the story is focused on a couple of characters that we needed to have more stakes in. Alisha Hawthorne as Buzz's best friend and commanding officer, is given an emotional story arc, but it takes place almost entirely out of Bizz's presence. The time elapse nature of the story keeps her and Buzz from being as connected as they need to be for us to really feel the loss. What Pixar was able to do in a few minutes at the start of "Up", they can't replicate in the 105 minutes that this film runs. When Sox, the mechanical cat is the hero of the story, and the key relationship Buzz has on screen, then he should be the heart tugger, and while there is a moment or two, they don't reach us the way they could.

I saw this in 3D and it made the backgrounds deeper and the foreground more interesting, but there was nothing special about it other than the 3D effect. Nothing pulls you in or startles you by coming off the screen. So the film is serviceable but not special, and that feels like a failure when we are talking about the source. For anyone else, it would be a solid hit.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Jurassic World: Dominion


In preparation for the latest Dinosaur extravaganza, I recently watched all the other films in this series. There is a reason that Steven Spielberg is the most celebrated director of our times and Colin Trevorrow is a journeyman with only bits of occasional inspiration. Two suspense scenes in the first two Jurassic Park films show you what a master Spielberg is. The initial T-Rex attack in Jurassic Park is one of the most tense, frightening and well directed scenes in a movie ever. In The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the attack on the trailers adds on tension in each moment that Spielberg makes work so much longer and more effectively than anyone else has managed to do. Trevorrow, for all his gifts, simply does not have the instinct that Spielberg does. His tension building scenes are too abrupt, too frequent, and sometimes over the top in a way that he can't quite pull off.  It's not meant as an insult to say he is no Spielberg, it is simply an acknowledgement that his films have not been able to work at the same level.

Jurassic World Dominion is not a failure because of the action scenes, the problem is actually the opposite, the action scenes fail because the rest of the movie cannot quite justify them, I was willing to go along with the revamped "Jurassic World" because it stemmed from a solid idea, that built on what came before it, and even though it stretched the concept a bit, it managed to work. "Fallen Kingdom" and "Dominion" don't have the right premise going for them, so the stringing together of solid action beats with bad story ideas and dumb characters, just won't cut it. I enjoyed the moments of action in the film that employed the main characters from the two sets of film groups, but the secondary characters are underwritten, somewhat unnecessary and disposed of either too soon for us to enjoy their comeuppance, or without much drama. 

These posts never give away spoilers and I try to refrain from simply recapping the film as part of the discussion, which is a good thing in this case because I'm not sure I could keep it all straight. Characters come in who start off as antagonists, then end up as allies and allies disappear after a few scenes and are never heard from again. There are genetically created murder locusts, that may threaten the world food supply, but then they may simply be a marketing tool for genetically modified crops, but then the geneticist who created them demurs and maybe we want to get rid of them. It simply depends on the scene as to which way the evil corporation is going at the moment. There is no logical consistency in the objectives of the antagonists and the heroes have mixed motives for their actions as well. There are a bunch of shady characters who are acting out of greed, but sometimes they just seem to be malevolent for the sake of being evil.

All of this is happening in a universe that is not vey well thought out. There are dinosaurs in the wild, dinosaurs nesting in urban areas, dinosaurs in nature preserves, dinosaurs in illegal breeding factories, and dinosaurs in private possession. Despite all of the potential dino death surrounding everyone, the culture moves on as if the threat does not exist, until it is in your face. Are the velociraptors creatures to be feared and potential rivals to our dominance of the planet? Or are they creatures to be pitied because they are hunted, and misunderstood?  The film makers do their best to get as many different dinosaurs into the story as they can, and sometimes they come across as teddy bears, and other times as venomous snakes from the outback. 

As dangerous as a dinosaur might be, the human characters are the ones that present the biggest menace because they all offer a moment of pontification and exposition that just might kill...your interest in what is happening. Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Laura Dern, Sam Neil, Jeff Goldblum, B.D. Wong, and Campbell Scott all have a moment when they provide exposition and supposed philosophical insight into the events that are happening. Remember the scene where Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neil are warning John Hammond at the dinner table in Jurassic Park? Well it feels like that happens every ten minutes in this film. It's as if TED Talks become the standard way that people communicate with one another. The most human and realistic moment comes when Ellie Stadler voices exactly what the audience is thinking after listening to a guru like Steve Jobs monologue from Dodgson. "What?"  It drew a laugh, but even such meta awareness doesn't stop it from continuing. Everyone sounds like Jeremy Rifkin or Al Gore at some point, and it just gets to be too much.

Aside from the schizophrenic story telling, cartoon characters, implausible technology and unexplained political realities, the movie was fun to watch for two and a half hours. If you want high tech thriller mixed with old school adventure, just drop down to the subterranean hyper loop of Elon Musk, I mean Lewis Dodgson, and follow Sam Neil's Dr. Grant as he plays 'Indiana Jones in the Tunnel of Dinosaurs".  Just don't get distracted by the flaming killer locusts who will distract you until it is time for the two apex predators to face off in a climax that means nothing. If you put some Raisinettes  in your popcorn, along with some Hot Tamales, you will have done a more logical job of gene splicing than this movie, and you will enjoy consuming that a lot more than the film.